Shwedagon Pagoda

Evening time in Shwedagon (Photo credit: Roger Price)

Shwedagon means "Golden Hill", and the Shwedagon Pagoda certainly appears to be a giant golden mound atop of Singuttara Hill, rising 321 feet above its base. All told, the mound covers an area of some 14 acres.

Archaeologists say that the gilded shrine was built between the 6th and the 10th centuries by the Mons, some of the earliest people of Southeast Asia, in the place where now is built the city of Yangon, Burma. It dominates the skyline and is the most significant of the Buddhist pagodas to the Burmese.

According to legend, however, the golden shrine was built 2,500 years ago; it was said to be founded by two brothers who encountered the Gautama Buddha and received eight of his hairs. With the help of a local king in Burma, the two brothers found Singuttara Hill, where other relics of the Buddha had already been enshrined. It is said that when the hairs were taken from their golden casket, there was a tumult among the spirits and earthquakes.

Unfortunately, earthquakes haunted the structure and damaged it several times, especially in 1768, when the top of the pagoda, also known as a stupa, was brought down.

(Photo credit: Marc oh!)

In the 14th century, the Pagoda was built up to the height of 60 feet. It was rebuilt several times and reached its present height in the 1500's. By the beginning of the 16th century, Singuttara Hill was the most famous place of pilgrimage in Burma. The series of earthquakes then struck in the 17th century; however, the religious structure was repaired during the Konbuang Dynasty. A metal umbrella called an hti was donated to the shrine in 1871, and placed atop its top point. In the modern day, another earthquake put the hti out of alignment in the 1970s, and extensive repairs were made to give the golden mound back its beauty.

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